The Flick Chicks

06/26/06 Cinevegas 2006

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Judy Thorburn

CineVegas 2006 in the Palms Casino Resort in the Brenden Theatres

Las Vegas Tribune -
Las Vegas Round The Clock

The Women Film Critics Circle -
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in Las Vegas
at the Palms Casino Resort
in the Brenden Theatres


Judy Thorburn
Photos by Stephen Thorburn


The eighth annual CineVegas, which ran from June 9th through June 17th at the Brendan Theatres inside the Palms Hotel and Casino, was billed for the first time as “The World’s Most Dangerous Film Festival”. How’s that for commanding attention? That motto seems apropos for this year’s film festival because of entries that spotlight sex, drugs, adultery, the Avante Garde, and well, you get the picture. Sideline offerings included red carpet arrivals, panel discussions, nightly after party bashes at some of the hottest sin city nightspots where the movie buff with an all access pass can even rub shoulders with some of the A-list celebrities, famous and up and coming filmmakers and movie stars. Thanks go out to Las Vegas media moguls Robin Greenspun, President of CineVegas, and her husband Danny along with returning programmer Trevor Groth (of Sundance) and Dennis Hopper, who is in his third year as Chairman of the Creative Advisory Board, for continuing to draw an impressive roster of stars, filmmakers and their movies.

Danny Greenspun and his wife Robin Greenspun with Dennis Hopper and Johnny Brenden
Dennis Hopper receives Brenden Theatre's Star Award

With 59 movie selections in categories such as World and U.S. premieres, domestic and foreign films, documentaries, shorts, student films and the non-mainstream, it is virtually impossible to see them all. As it turned out, and it couldn’t have been worse timing, I came down with a bad case of laryngitis/upper respiratory infection right at the start of CineVegas and although I felt crummy for most of the time, I chugged along, and managed to take in as many films, as I could plus panels and a few after parties before hitting the pillow and getting some much needed z’s each night.

The opening night movie on Friday was the debut of the film version of Comedy Central’s “Strangers with Candy”, an offbeat comedy starring Amy Sedaris as Jerri Blank, a 46 year old ex-junkie and ex-con who after getting out of prison, tries to start her life over where she left off, by moving in with her step mom and comatose Dad, and returning to high school. Sir Ian Holm, Sara Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, and recent Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman even have cameo roles. If you liked the TV series, this one, raunchier and more politically incorrect, will grab your fancy. Many of the cast members, including director and co-star Paul Dinello, but not Sedaris (or the other A-list stars) were present at the screening and attended the after party at Rain, the very hip nightclub at the Palms.

Cast of "Strangers With Candy" with Dennis Hopper (center)

On Saturday I sat through three films, two of which were among my favorites at this year’s festival. On the top of my list is “Danika”, a psychological thriller, starring Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei, in another Oscar worthy performance as an upper middle class suburban wife and mother who appears to have it all. However, when she begins experiencing more and more instances of terrifying delusions and nightmares that are overtaking her life, it seems like she is slowly descending into madness. Writer Joshua Liebner and director Ariel Vromen have woven a complex and taut story that is absorbing, frightening, includes a fitting eerie music score and is reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan at his best. Think “Sixth Sense” and you get the idea and mood, plus a twist that will jolt you out of your seat.

I liked “The Puffy Chair”, which I highly recommend for its realistic, truthful look at family and romantic relationships with a road trip as the premise. Remember the names, the Duplass Brothers, (Jay, director and co-writer with Mark, the film’s star) for bringing this witty and insightful slice of life to the screen. I predict we will be hearing and seeing a lot more from these talented siblings. The story goes like this….Josh (Jay) has decided to give his father the perfect birthday gift, a puffy recliner chair just like the one he grew up with. But, since he won it on Ebay, he first has to pick it up in his car before delivering it to his Dad in Atlanta. This entails a trip that brings neglected girlfriend Emily (Diane Lane look-alike, charming Kathryn Aselton) and “zen” younger brother Rhett (Rhett Wilkins) on board for the ride that brings about honest, funny, and unexpected consequences. Everything about this film is natural, the actors, dialogue and even strange situations that might occur as we plot along in life. I especially like the very UNformulaic ending.

Kathryn Aselton,, Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass of "The Puffy Chair"

The third film was “The Favor”, which I thought had a good premise, and was well acted by the two male leads (Frank Wood and Ryan Donowho). But, the story of a lonely but caring man who takes in his former sweetheart’s troubled teenage son after her unexpected death was, at 110 minutes, too long and drawn out.

Besides “Danika”, my other favorite film, in a total different genre, was Sunday evening’s World Premiere of “Thanks to Gravity”, co-produced by Amy Greenspun (Robin’s niece), which is a semi autobiographical film by writer/director Jessica Kavana detailing the coming of age of a Jewish Latin American girl from Miami. TTG explores Jordana Landa’s (a very imressive Gina Phillips) struggle to find out who she is and what she really wants out of life as she tries to live up to the expectations of her family, while being involved in the world of college debate and romantic entanglements. I loved the underlying theme that was interwoven throughout the script and the genuine performances by the entire cast. For a first time screenwriter, Kavana did a great job. She was present at the screening and afterwards, took questions from the audience. On an interesting note, she said the film’s title came from a band she saw in Boston and figured it into the storyline as something Jordan’s esoteric roommate would say.

Amy Greenspun (producer), Jessica Kavana (screenwriter) and Lead actress Gina Philips of "Thanks to Gravity"

Tuesday, being in the mood for something funny, I chose to see “Park”, written and directed by Kurt Voelker. The ensemble cast includes, Ricki Lake, Billy Baldwin, Cheri Otieri, with the story that unfolds at a secluded Park overlooking L.A. where the lives of a group of strangers, and others more closely related, cross paths and become entangled. A motley bunch these are, ranging from a pair of male nudists, an unfaithful husband, his suspicious, watchful wife and her best friend, a pet groomer, and a woman trying to commit suicide. The situations that ensue are hilarious and the cast, including some impressive newcomers, (who, along with Cheri Otieri were at the screening) go all out to make it work.

Cast of "Park" Cheri Otieri 3rd from left

During the week I also sat through “G.I. Jesus”, about a Mexican American who arrives home from combat duty in Iraq, with hopes of leading a normal life with his wife and young daughter, but soon begins to experience hallucinations and paranoia as a result of post traumatic stress disorder and feelings of guilt. Good acting, but I thought the message was bit heavy handed and depressing, with a cop out ending.

Cast of "GI Jesus"

Rounding out my movie selections were “Wild Tigers I Have Known”, a provocative look at a preteen boys sexually awakening and his crush on another older male student, “5 Up 2 Down”, which was supposed to have a spiritual backdrop, but although it was stylistically filmed, a story that was basically almost two hours of watching two drug addicted best friends who are artists constantly doing crack cocaine, or having sex with numerous women bored me. Implied was a spiritual, re-incarnation connection between the best friends, but an occasional flashback of the artist haunted by his past, wasn’t enough to keep my interest or care about the two. I managed to see two foreign films: The French/German import, “The Ring Finger” (L’Annulaires) a very mysterious and erotic film about a beautiful young French woman (Olga Kurylenko) and the strange relationship she develops with her mysterious boss (Mark Barbe), the director of a rather unusual laboratory where she winds up working. Interesting, and thought provoking, I would describe it as David Lynch meets the Twilight Zone. I was drawn to “One Last Dance”, (a Japanese film with an American director, Max Makowski, who was present at the screening) because Harvey Keitel was listed as co-star. Unfortunately, if you blink you would miss him, since he appears only briefly in a cameo. The story revolves around an assassin known only as “T”. I can tell you this, there is a lot of killing, great camera work and editing, but I got lost in what I thought was a confusing storyline.

Cast of "5 Up 2 Down"

When it came to the parties, I only made it to two. Tuesday night I ventured to the Glaseau Vitamin water sponsored party at Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay, and boy was I glad I pushed myself to go for many reasons. First, I had never been to the Shark Reef, which is a great way to check out the collection of underwater creatures like eels, big turtles, exotic fish, and of course sharks. There is even a stand alone, circular floor to ceiling aquarium that is home to a school of beautiful, transparent jellyfish. We followed a walkway down to what appears to be an underground grotto with bench seating, where delicious offerings of hors de voures and drinks were a plenty. Circling among the guests were the colorful, costumed performers from Circque du Soleil. It was dark, but I saw Penn Jillette (without Teller) mingling about. I happened to notice another fellow journalist and friend, Las Vegas Weekly entertainment editor Martin Stein in line waiting for a drink, so I stopped by for a hello and visited awhile before spending a good part of the night chatting it up with Brent Holmes (Clint’s son) and his girlfriend Shannon, who are both smart and delightful and always fun to be around.

Listening to the filmmakers and stars discuss their craft in person has got to be a big draw at CineVegas. This year, what was billed as an “Outlaw Cinema Panel” was held Sunday, inside the Lounge at the Palms. Five filmmakers, whose body of work has had an impact and influence on “dangerous” filmmaking, making them so called “outlaws” in the world of cinema were on hand. The panel discussion moderated by Scott Foundas, film editor of L.A. Weekly, consisted of Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant), James Fotopoulos, Gregg Araki, Nina Menkes, and former standup comic, Bobcat Goldthwait (Shakes the Clown, Windy City Heat). The difficulty in making independent films, on low, even meager budgets, hard to come by money and fighting the censors was a few of the topics discussed. The mikes kept going out and if it weren’t for the very funny and entertaining Bobcat, who showed up fittingly in black penciled in twirly moustache and Cowboy hat, the afternoon discussion would have been a disaster. At one point, Bobcat had everyone laughing out loud with his remark about Fotopoulos who hardly spoke. “Contrary to what it seems, he is not a silent filmmaker” Goldthwait joked. While all the others seem to take themselves so seriously, Bobcat was quick to jump in with truthful and honest words about his work, but always in a funny vein. On a side note, everyone found it odd that Ferrara got up and left in the middle of it all without saying a word and returned after a long break with no mention of where he went and why. I guess “independent” filmmaker is a fitting title indeed!

Outlaw Cinema Panel

The first acting tribute took place on Monday when actor Laurence Fishburne, was presented with the Half Life Award, an honor given to those in the prime of their career with an already impressive body of work. Dennis Hopper introduced his fellow actor stating that he became Fishburne’s mentor when they worked together on “Apocalypse Now” when Fishburne was only fifteen. Fishburne thanked Hopper saying that, “He taught me how to swing. Acting is like jazz music. I pledge to continue to swing as I hard as I can in the future”. Later he added more to that saying “acting is about rhythm, time, texture, and colors. It’s all about feeling, to communicate with whatever texture.” Film critic Elvis Mitchell was the moderator of the 30 minute conversation before the screening of Fishburne’s new movie, “Five Fingers”, that co-stars Ryan Philippe, in his best work yet, as Martijn, a Dutch pianist, who travels to Morocco to start a food program for malnourished children but winds up being abducted, interrogated and tortured by a mysterious terrorist played by Fishburne. The film is a well-acted, tense and thought-provoking thriller. But, back to the revealing chat. Fishburne appeared relaxed and shared the process of growing from a teenage actor to the accomplished professional he is today. “Great acting is when someone is completely vulnerable, exposed and naked. It is what is in here (he touched his chest). I do it for you (pointing to the audience), not for me”, he said.

Laurence Fishburne - Half Life Award recipient - Photo by Lindsay Hebberd

On Wednesday, there was star power in the house when Sylvester Stallone walked the red carpet in front of a crowd of fans, photographers and press, before accepting The Brenden Theatre Star Award from theatre owner Johnny Brenden, which was unveiled on the floor of the theatre lobby. He looked fit and was happy to be in attendance prior to the 30th Anniversary Celebratory screening of the original Rocky (a special treat for those too young to have seen it on the big screen when it was first released). Sly thanked everyone, and spoke about editing the upcoming Rocky 6 saying, “I am overwhelmed, but in a good way.”

Sylvester Stallone receives Brenden Theatre's Star Award

Johnny Brenden, Sylvester Stallone, Diva and Dennis Hopper

Friday was the day director Taylor Hackford and his wife actress Dame Helen Mirren both had films of theirs screened and each were honored with awards. First was the morning screening of Taylor’s 1987 documentary “Chuck Berry Hail, Hail, Rock and Roll”. At 2PM he received the Vanguard Director Award and participated in an insightful discussion before the screening of another of his films, “The Idolmaker” (a film the moderator said has become an underground classic) starring the late Ray Sharkey, about a rock and roll promoter that is based on the guy who discovered 50’s idol, Fabian and others. Hackford said that he was worried the film would never be released since it was scheduled to come out around the same time as “Heaven’s Gate”, one of the most expensive bombs in movie history. The studio, United Artists couldn’t afford another box office disaster and Hackford thought the film was doomed, which of course didn’t happen.

Taylor Hackford

Hackford discussed his earlier years, in which he said that he grew up with many of his best friends being Latin and that he had an affinity with Latin people. He spoke about his college years, joining the Peace Corps, becoming an investigative reporter in L.A., how he got started in making documentaries and films about a “huge part of the population studios weren’t serving” and also the making of many of his films including “Officer and a Gentleman” and “White Nights”. About his method of filmmaking, the director said, “The actor is my collaborator. Give them as many tools, and together we chart a course. However, I don’t shoot in continuity. I know it is difficult for actors. They build a progression and we (film) jumping back and forth, beginning, end, and in between.”

Regarding “An Officer and A Gentleman” (made for $130 million, but today would be close to $300 million), the film that launched the careers of both Richard Gere and Debra Winger, yes, we were told, John Travolta was offered the lead but got an offer to fly jet planes and decided to do that instead. Years later Travolta said he was sorry he didn’t do the film. Hackford went on to speak about problems surrounding the making of the movie. “The military originally thought the movie was blasphemous and didn’t want anything to do with it. But it was a good working class movie, a romance, and about someone finding himself through the military. It was also the first time you ever saw a black authority figure (played by Louis Gossett, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role) in a real honest way. Eventually the military wound up promoting the film.” The studio also didn’t like the song he chose for the end, “Up Where We Belong”, sung by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes. What people don’t know is they didn’t record it together, with each of their voices recorded separately and later mixed together. The song wound up winning Best Song at the Oscars.

At 6PM, the lovely Dame Helen Mirren received her Marquee Award and sat for a Q&A with NY Times film critic Sharon Waxman, before the screening of her 1999 film “The Passion of Ayn Rand” for which she won an Emmy. Dennis Hopper introduced Mirren as “one of the world’s greatest actresses”, and then said “I am really humbled and honored to be in her presence- great integrity – that’s all I can say”. It was an informative discussion where Mirren, preferring to be addressed as Helen rather than Dame, was ever the eloquent lady, and spoke about her roots as daughter of a working class British mother and Russian aristocrat father, who grew up in “Britain’s version of Coney Island, a funky seaside resort.” Asked when she first knew she wanted to act, Helen replied, “ I knew I loved the imaginative world. I was transported by Hamlet. My first route into pretending was Shakespeare. I did some school things and was good at it. It engaged me imaginatively. The idea of films didn’t come into my mind until I was exposed to European films and then I thought it was a good idea.” She spoke about her roles on TV, which she says are “more interesting because material can be more daring”, and her roles in various movies as “Caligula” (“Everyone was naked. It was mind boggling, surreal, extreme and wonderful in a way”), “White Nights” (that’s how she met her husband, the director) and as two English Queens, Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II the living Queen of England. “Elizabeth I was the greatest role I will ever get. It is never going to be as good as this again. I love being in big dresses and big hair. It is wonderful to be the queen. But it was so intimidating since noone REALLY knows what she looked like or how she moved. I was lucky that the writing was so great. The thees and thows sound so silly. I had to find a way to engage (in the speech) imaginatively. I looked at portraits of her but only spent 30 minutes in the makeup chair. As for the living Queen Elizabeth II, “I was frightened and intimated by the thought. Friends say I look extraordinarily like her and couldn’t look at me. When I saw the costumes I literally cried. I like her better now. I thought she was grumpy and cold. I see it more now from her perspective.” About using her sexuality, “Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson were inspirations before me. They took it all off. I had nude scenes to do in “The Age of Consent”. I somehow find myself in material with edgy directors. However, I never felt intimidated, that they would think of me in one way. I’ve always done theatre which grounded me.” Is there a role she wishes for? Helen’s response was, “No. Real great roles come to you from left field. I like ones that take me by surprise”. Asked if she prefers any role, she quickly replied, “My preference is the one I am not doing at the time. The grass is always greener”. Spoken like a real thespian!

NY Times film critic Sharon Waxman interviews Marquee Award recipient Helen Mirren

Christina Ricci seems a bit young to receive the Half Life Award, and although she is probably far from midpoint in her career, her body of work has been phenomenal with an acting range that includes innocence, charm, sultry, powerful and everything in between. On Saturday she sat down in the theatre after accepting her award and spoke how she started as a child actor in TV commercials and how it led to her diverse film resume. She said she was “bored in school and needed a creative output. I was a menace, writing on walls, and getting into fights. Going on auditions with my mom gave me a sense of purpose, that I was good at something. My mother wasn’t a stage mother, even though she helped me get a lot of movies. A mother can make a shoot hell. But, she was understanding, rational and pragmatic. Everyone liked her. She’s soft-spoken and very nice.” Christina spoke about how incredibly lucky she felt working with such professional and talented actors like Johnny Depp, Cher, Angelica Houston (“She demands respect and is like royalty”), Jessica Lange (“It is amazing watching her work”) and how she developed a close relationship with Kevin Kline, her co-star in “Ice Storm”, who took her home to have dinner with his family. Ricci said that with almost 40 movies under her belt, she feels like she belongs on a set where she knows what she is doing. “It’s the only life I’ve ever known. I don’t have the perspective to compare it to anything else,” she said. In retrospect, Cristina said “It’s true youth is wasted on the young. If I was a bit mature I would have enjoyed the success those movies brought me. It had to with the fact that I was an awkward 17 year old. I was supposed to have insight, but I had nothing insightful to say. I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I was ugly. I didn’t understand adults. Some were nice while others were not. I was just too young and didn’t handle it well. Success was something scary.”

Christina Ricci - Half Life Award Recipient - Photo by Zee Matoulonis

I am sorry I didn’t stay to see her movie, “The Opposite of Sex”, which was screened right after her Q&A session. The timing of that movie coincided with the last film of the festival. Christina laughed about her role in “The Opposite of Sex”, saying that when her mother first read the script she said “You can do this in your sleep. She’s just like you.” With that Christina added, “The character says mean and nasty things and its funny, just like I did when I was her age.”

So at the last minute, I decided to go with CineVegas’ closing film, the U.S. Premiere of Lies and Alibis because l) the ensemble cast that includes Rebecca Romijn, Steve Coogan, Sam Elliot, Henry Rollins, John Leguizamo, James Marsden, Selma Blair and Jaime King and 2) I thought the premise of a risk management firm in the business of saving marriages and relationships by creating false alibis for husbands and wives that cheat was a good idea. The black comedy started off on the right foot but as soon as the service proves not to be foolproof and the then switches into a con caper, I thought all the plot turns and twists turned into one big convoluted mess, funny at times, but not worth my recommendation. Once more, a good idea that loses its tracking.

Red Carpet for "Lies and Alibis" at the Palms Casino in Brenden Theatres

Director/Writer Kurt Voekler

Jim Cody Williams

Jarreth J. Merz

Johnny Brenden with Izabella Miko

Izabella Miko

Francesco Quinn

Deborah Kara Unger

Amiee Garcia

The closing day’s luncheon was, one again as in previous years held at Postrio Restaurant at the Venetian Hotel (I was told press wasn’t invited this year, so I wasn’t there) where festival awards were given to the following: Grand Jury Award: G.I. Jesus; Honorable Mention: The Favor, Audience Award: Park, Special Award for Cinematography: 5 Up 2 Down and Best Nevada Filmmaking Short: 19 Miles to Vegas.

I have to say the closing night party, which took place poolside at the Green Valley Ranch Hotel and Casino, was one fabulous way to wrap up CineVegas 2006. What a bash, consisting of some of the hippest and most beautiful people in Las Vegas, filmmakers and stars such as Dylan McDermott, Chris Kattan, Sanaah Lathan, Brande Roderick attending, tables upon tables of food and desserts, open bars, music and a tall stage with amazing dancers in skimpy, colorful salsa costumes shaking their booty to the rhythms, plus holographic images rising from the pool. It was a night to remember.

Closing Night Party at Green Valley Ranch

So folks, that’s my scoop on CineVegas 2006. Even though I am pooped, I can’t wait till next year!


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Judy's coverage of CineVegas 2005

 Judy's coverage of CineVegas 2004

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